formal adoption ritual. Witnesses stand gravely by. An

inscription above the head of the goddess, describing
the scene, reads like a legal document: “This graphic

Reveals how Hercules, son of Uni, drank milk.” Here a
private act becomes a public, ritual act. The mirror
dates from the fourth century B.C. Other representations of this myth happen on Apulian vases of the fourth
and third centuries B.C. Apparently this was a motif
that developed in Italy.141
Bodies of nursing moms or kourotrophoi either
holding children or actually suckling them were popular all over Italy-they appear in Etruscan, South
Italian, and Sicilian art, in regions where the notion
of a mother goddess who rules over fertility and the
birth of kids had never ceased to be significant.
Some of these pictures have survived, with their amazing presence: the so-called Mater Matuta from
Chiusi, a large flagstone cinerary urn dating from the fifth
century B.C., depicting a girl holding a baby in
her lap; a mom nursing two babies from Megara
Hyblaea, near Syracuse, in Sicily, from the sixth century; and an entire chain of some 200 “mommies” or kourotrophoi from a refuge near Capua, in South
Italy, holding as many as 14 kids. (The latter are
Just sometimes nursing.) All present the theme of
fertility on a monumental scale. Thousands of little,
Economical terracotta votive figurines from sanctuaries
were also offered as presents to powerful mother goddesses.142 Written sources and inscriptions give us the
names of some of these Italic divinities, for example

Uni Astarte, on the gold tablets from Pyrgi. Minerva,
Also, just incompletely identified with , was a kourotrophos in Italy.143
Outstanding, in contrast, is the conspicuous absence
of the motif of the nursing mom from Classical
Greek artwork. Here, too, a powerful taboo is clearly involved. It’s otherwise difficult to describe why such a
universal gesture as that of a mother nursing her child
should be so studiously avoided. Like female nudity,
this image enters the repertory of Greek artwork solely in the
Hellenistic period together with numerous other
genre motifs. Even in the fourth century B.C., as


[AJA 93

Brian Shefton has revealed, it’s used almost entirely
for figures of Aphrodite with her kid, Eros, on
painted vases of South Italy or Sicily. There, the
Greek colonists had become accustomed to local customs and beliefs.’44
Could the lack of this picture from Ancient
Greek art reflect life? Fascinating studies have focused
on the problem of breast-feeding by the mother in various
cultures and civilizations.145 Surely aristocraticor even “bourgeois”-Greek and Roman women scarcely
nursed their infants-they had wet nurses, often slaves
from their own home. The wet nurse is well
known from Greek art-for example on Greek funerary stelai, where she hands the baby to the seated
Mum.146 It’s a sign of civilization for a woman to be
freed of this embarrassingly physical necessity, all too
reminiscent of our lowly animal nature. And truly
Classical Greek art traditionally represents barbarians, along with animals or wild creatures for example centaurs nursing their young.”47 The absence of such an
Significant image, however, isn’t so much due to the
fact that ladies did not nurse their own children, or
that the picture of the wet nurse was too unimportant
to be represented, except in a secondary job, in relation to the mom-definitely not in the private act of
holding the infant at her breast. The reason is rather to
be sought in the attitude to any kind of female exposure or nudity, felt to be overly private, specific, shameful
and dangerous, all at the same time.
The image of the female breast was too powerful to
be depicted casually in art. Like the phallus, the eye,
and the frontal face, the sight of the naked breast has a
double role. It is an indication of helplessness; at the same


time it has a remarkablemagic force.148 The face of
the Gorgon can paralyze, and thereforeprotect. The
evil eye can ruin, or save. It is no coincidencethat
the herm consists of a frontal face and an erect phallus: it was meant to function an apotropaicfunction,shielding the city and its citizens.149 A grotesque statuette of a nude woman nursing an infant makes use of
the potent image of the naked female breast (fig. 9).s10

From the sevenththrough the fourth centuriesB.C.
nudity was represented in art in both Greece and
Italy, but with distinct meanings. In Greece the ancient pre-Homeric awareness of male nudity was overturned, while for girls, especiallyin Athens, the old
significance of the disgrace, humiliation, and vulnerability of exposure and nudity stayed unchanged.
In , Greek culture brought with it its “modern” ways, without, however, changing customs and
attitudesdeeply rootedin the religion and traditionsof